As­tron­omy’s metaphor

In­sights into lux­ury from Michael Fried­man, Aude­mars Piguet his­to­rian.

Esquire (Malaysia) - - MACHINERY - Words by Grace Lai

What is lux­ury? Is it aes­thet­ics? It is purely a price point?” asks Michael Fried­man, a his­to­rian from Aude­mars Piguet. “All a watch is, is a metaphor for as­tron­omy. That has al­ways been the in­spi­ra­tion for watch­mak­ers. They are a part of cul­ture that’s in­her­ently de­signed to last for­ever.” In other words, if lux­ury is eter­nal, then the watch sig­ni­fies im­mor­tal­ity.

The idea of and the quest for an age­less ex­is­tence holds great cur­rency in Malaysia, which ranks as Aude­mars Piguet’s sec­ond-largest mar­ket in Asia for sales.

“Peo­ple say the present is de­fined by what hap­pened in the past, but Aude­mars Piguet has al­ways been trans­gres­sive. We don’t recre­ate our past; we choose to be in­spired by it. We want to cre­ate the fu­ture. One foot in the past, one foot in the present; that is the motto for us at Aude­mars,” Fried­man ex­plains.

The past is re­ally the present: “No mat­ter how fu­tur­is­tic our de­signs, the move­ments, the fin­ish and the case will al­ways be the same. They will al­ways carry the pre­cise me­chan­i­cal move­ments and the knowl­edge handed down over the years.”

A brief his­tory of that foun­da­tional past goes some­thing like this: in a Europe caught up in the prom­ise of the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion, 23-year-old Jules Aude­mars joined forces with 21-year-old Ed­ward Piguet, both hav­ing learned watch­mak­ing in Le Bras­sus. Aude­mars was fab­ri­cat­ing com­pli­cated ébauches (blank move­ments to be fin­ished and fit­ted by a watch man­u­fac­turer) from a work­shop on his par­ents’ farm, while Piguet was work­ing as a self-em­ployed repasseur (a mas­ter watch­maker who per­forms the fi­nal reg­u­la­tion on a watch). A grow­ing num­ber of or­ders from Geneva meant Aude­mars had to hire ex­tra watch­mak­ers, in­clud­ing Piguet, whom he knew from his school­days. They would soon cease to be sup­pli­ers and in­stead man­u­fac­ture and mar­ket the com­pli­cated watches that were their mu­tual pas­sion. Aude­mars, Piguet & Cie was born.

Aude­mars was in charge of pro­duc­tion and tech­ni­cal­i­ties, while Piguet fo­cused on sales and man­age­ment. The tag team worked so well that the for­mat was main­tained af­ter the death of the founders: the Aude­mars fam­ily han­dled the techy bits, and the Piguet fam­ily, the com­mer­cial ar­range­ments. Aude­mars Piguet re­mains the old­est watch man­u­fac­turer owned by its found­ing fam­i­lies, who have had a seat on the board of di­rec­tors since the com­pany’s birth in 1882.

“The his­tory of Aude­mars is beau­ti­ful,” says Fried­man, re­fer­ring to how the launch of its de­but piece co­in­cided with a con­stel­la­tion of events and his­tor­i­cal fig­ures.

“Jules and Ed­ward de­buted the first watch at the Universal Ex­po­si­tion of 1889 in Paris and his­tory buffs will re­alise that it was the same year the Eif­fel Tower was un­veiled, and at the same expo, you had iconic names like Vin­cent van Gogh, Tesla, Thomas Edi­son, and even Amer­i­cans An­nie Oak­ley and Buf­falo Bill in at­ten­dance!

“So, when you buy a piece of Aude­mars Piguet—and I’m not push­ing the prod­uct here—you’re giv­ing your­self a piece of a truly his­toric name. Ev­ery sin­gle piece is doc­u­mented—the di­als spec­i­fied, the nu­mer­als, the hands and the cas­ing

num­bered. If you’ve in­her­ited your grand­fa­ther’s Aude­mars watch, we can trace the piece back to when it was cre­ated and re­place or re-cre­ate any part of it, just as they did, for you to­day.”

And what is the place of ris­ing tech, with its al­pha­bet of soup of AI, VR and smart de­vices? Fried­man plots the tra­jec­tory of the Swiss watch like this:

“The Swiss have been mak­ing watches by hand for hun­dreds of years. Who are we to change that? Of course, there’s al­ways a ques­tion of ‘Should we, shouldn’t we?’ But for me, it’s very sim­ple: never over-adopt a tech­nol­ogy. You don’t have to sep­a­rate fash­ion from her­itage. Me­chan­i­cal watches may never be as ac­cu­rate as a piece with quartz tech­nol­ogy, but then you ask your­self: is it only pre­ci­sion, or is it pre­ci­sion with a legacy?”

Top First minute re­peater wrist­watch, 1892. Above Michael Fried­man. Bot­tom Royal Oak Frosted Gold 37mm white gold watch.

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